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Old MacDonald’s ancestors

The earliest known ancestor of Old MacDonald had a farm is A charming country life in Thomas D’Urfey’s Pills to purge melancholy (1719–20); while the verses have no resemblance to the later song, the chorus of “Here a ___, there a ___, everywhere a ___” is structurally identical.

Further eighteenth-century versions appear in other collections; in the nineteenth century others, always with the same stock chorus but differing in other particulars, emerged in blackface minstrelsy. A version from a 1917 book of soldiers’ songs produced in London gives the first direct predecessor of the modern version, with a similar tune for the chorus and an identification of the farmer as “Old MacDougal”; it also explains the nonsensical “ee-i-ee-i-o”: Old MacDougal’s farm was “in O-hi-o-hi-o.”

This according to “Farmyard cacaphonies: Three centuries of a popular song” by Vic Gammon (Folk music journal XI/1, 42-72; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2011-2628).

Above, D’Urfey, who claimed—perhaps unreliably—to have written the original song. Below, Sesame Street’s justly neglected Old MacDonald cantata.

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Filed under Animals, Europe, Humor, Nature

Synesthesia with trombones

Data from an experiment in which subjects listened to a series of pitches played on various instruments while tasting flavors such as lemon, peppermint, and salt showed significant connections between the sounds of the instruments and flavor perceptions.

For example, the taste of sugar was considered inappropriate for trombones, while it matched well with the piano. Orange-flower went with trombones but not with strings, while coffee failed to correspond with brass instruments but suited woodwinds nicely. “Our results”, the researchers noted cannily, “raise important questions about our representation of tastes and flavors, and could also lead to applications in the marketing of food products.”

This according to “As bitter as a trombone: Synesthetic correspondences in nonsynesthetes between tastes/flavors and musical notes” by Anne-Sylvie Crisinel and Charles Spence (Attention, perception, and psychophysics LXXII/7 [October 2010] 1994–2002; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2010-7050).

Below, the picante trombones of Willie Colón’s band, ca. 1969.

More posts about synesthesia are here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Science

Stravinsky and cubism

 

Stravinsky’s Svadebka/Les noces—an assault of nonsense syllables, snatches of conversation, and ritual fragments—is a cubist reconstruction of a Russian peasant wedding. Despite its invocation of Christian saints, the work might be Neolithic or even Australopithicine, so backward-looking is its range of auditory allusion.

All of the action is accompanied by chatter, out of which a whoop or intelligible phrase may emerge—we hear pet names, silly games, much commentary on the wine and beer, and some veiled sexual talk; it is the auditory equivalent of the strips of newsprint that Picasso glued to some of his canvases.

This according to Stravinsky: The music box and the nightingale by Daniel Albright (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1989; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1989-12654).

Today is Stravinsky’s 140th birthday! Above and below, Bronislava Nijinska’s original choreography for the work.

 

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Dance, Visual art

Cross-cultural chironomia

In Tune thy musicke to thy hart: The art of eloquent singing in England, 15971622 (Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1993; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1993-4111) Robert Toft cites John Bulwer’s Chirologia, or, The naturall language of the hand (above, 1644) as a source for rhetorical gesturing that may apply to the performance of English art songs from this period.

“Gesture in the English lute-song” by Rosemary Carlton-Willis (Lute news 94 [August 2010] pp. 8–12; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2010-17302) gives concrete examples of the use of gestures in performing this repertory, and includes a comparison with South Asian ghazal singing, which also has a gestural tradition.

Below, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan demonstrates South Asian chironomia.

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Filed under Curiosities, Performance practice, Renaissance

Intertextuality and Britten’s War Requiem

Intertextuality is an integral part of Britten’s musical rhetoric in War Requiem, for which he interpolated nine of Wilfred Owen’s poems about World War I within the Requiem text.

Britten created a dialogue between the Requiem text and the poems, and between the Requiem genre and other works—in particular the medieval planctus and Bach’s Matthäuspassion.

During the Middle Ages, texts in Latin and the vernacular were interpolated into liturgies as commentary, sometimes adding an emotional response to the ritual. The War Requiem expresses a similar theological dialogue between traditional and nontraditional imagery in the postmodern age. Britten presents the voice of Owen’s soldier as the voice of Christ, expressing the pity of war.

This according to Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem: Parody and the transmutation of myth, Thomas Francis Rooney’s 1997 dissertation for Boston University (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1997-7442).

Today is the 60th anniversary of War Requiem’s premiere. The work was commissioned for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed in the Coventry Blitz on 14 November 1940. Above, the ruins of the original 14th-century structure; below, the same space as it looks today, serving as a courtyard adjacent to the new building.

BONUS: In the first section of the work’s Dies irae Britten contrasts the glorious trumpets of heaven in the Latin text with the bloody bugles of men in Owen’s Bugles sang; Mstislav Rostropovich conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus with the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Politics

Beethoven and Confucius

Beethoven has long been considered a cultural hero in the West, but to become such a figure in China his persona had to be made to fit into Chinese cultural categories.

The Chinese transformation of Beethoven’s character—first into that of a Confucian intellectual, then a Romantic poet, and finally a universal and national cultural hero—took place from the 1920s through the 1940s. This development involved the reception not of Beethoven’s music per se, but of his moral image: He had to be seen as having suffered to achieve both the goal of individual perfection and the larger goal of serving humanity.

This according to “Beethoven and Confucius: A case study in transmission of cultural values” by Yang Chien-Chang, an essay included in Musicology and globalization (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku, 2004, pp. 379–383; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-6751). The book comprises papers presented at the 2002 conference of the Nihon Ongaku Gakkai/Musicological Society of Japan.

Above, the Beethoven monument in Qingdao. Below, Beethoven’s ninth symphony in Chinese.

More posts about Beethoven are here.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Reception

Shine and the Titanic

Religious African Americans saw the sinking of the Titanic as an example of God’s intervention in human affairs, as a divine overriding of the advantages conferred by wealth and mastery of technology.

Their secular songs about the disaster either nihilistically stress the fact that terrible things can happen at any time and when they are least expected, or take up the trickster theme. This latter type, which implies that blacks can survive in the white man’s world even when whites do not, often features Shine, a trickster figure created by blacks for blacks.

Shine—a derogatory form of address invented by whites—is the first to warn the captain of the ship of impending disaster, but is ignored. As the ship is sinking, desperate white women offer him sex or money if he will save them, but he determines to abandon ship at once and save himself—a mocking comment on the white supremacist fantasy of the black man always ready to ravish white women.

This according to “The Titanic: A case study of religious and secular attitudes in African American song” by Chris Smith, an essay included in Saints and sinners: Religion, blues and (d)evil in African-American music and literature (Liège: Société Liégeoise de Musicologie, 1996, pp. 213–27).

Today is the 110th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic! Below, Willis Lonzer performs a comparatively chaste version of the classic tale.

Related article: The Britannic organ (sister ship of the Titanic)

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Filed under Black studies, Humor

Modulations and caterpillars

A fragment of Pherecrates’s comedy Chiron, as quoted in Plutarch’s Peri mousikēs, provides insights into aesthetic controversies in ancient Greece.

The scene depicts Dame Music as she recounts to Dame Justice the torments she has undergone at the hands of certain musicians of the time: Melanippides seized, debased, and weakened her with 12 tones; Cinesias ruined her with badly composed modulations; Phrynis bent, twisted, and completely destroyed her by sounding all 12 tones on the kithara; and, most egregiously of all, Timotheus, with his shrill dissonances and sinfully high-pitched and piercing notes and whistles, crammed her with modulations just as a cabbage-head is crammed with caterpillars, depriving her of all decency with his 12 tones.

This according to “Studies in musical terminology in 5th-century literature” by Ingemar Düring, an essay included in Eranos Löfstedtianus: Opuscula philologica Einaro Löfstedt A.D. XVII kal. iul. anno MCMXLV dedicata (Uppsala : Eranos Förlag, 1945; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1945-34).

More posts about ancient Greece are here.

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Filed under Antiquity, Curiosities, Humor, Literature, Theory

Haydn’s parrot

haydn-parrot

The Inventur und Schätzung der Joseph Haydnischen Kunstsachen—the catalogue of the auction of Haydn’s personal collection following his death in 1809—is preserved in the Musiksammlung of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.

One of the items listed therein was a living parrot. During the composer’s later years, the parrot enjoyed warm days in its cage in Haydn’s Vienna courtyard, mocking the sparrows on the neighbors’ roofs. It could whistle a full octave, sing the opening of the national anthem, and call out “Come, Papa Haydn, to the beautiful Paperi!”

This according to “Haydn als Sammler” by Otto Erich Deutsch, an article included in Zum Haydn-Jahr 1959 (Österreichische Musikzeitschrift XIV/5–6 [May–June 1959] pp. 188–194; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1959-648).

Today is Haydn’s 290th birthday! Below, perhaps a descendant.

Related article: Mozart’s starling

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Erste Wiener Gemüseorchester

The Erste Wiener Gemüseorchester (also known as the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra) performs on instruments made entirely out of fresh vegetables: cukeophones, radish-marimbas, carrot flutes, pumpkin basses, leek violins, and so on.

The instruments are all made from scratch one hour prior to each performance, using about 90 pounds of the freshest vegetables available; after the performance they are cooked to make a tasty soup for the audience and performers to enjoy together.

This according to “Music with taste” in Gastronomica (IV/4 [fall 2004], p. 126; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-21764).

Below, the group prepares and performs on their instruments in 2010.

BONUS: A newer video, from 2017.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Curiosities, Food, Instruments